Archive for category Weasel Report

+1’ed

By now you’ve probably heard that Google just recently has launched the latest way for mankind to share pictures of adorable cats and videos of people getting hit in the crotch , Google Plus. (Funnily enough, that was also the week MySpace got sold off for $35m after News Corp. had sunk an estimated $1.3b into this venture.) As of right now, it’s invite only, but I was able to try it for a few days now while everything is still in the second of the three phases all new things on the mighty intarwebs go through inevitably.

  • Phase 1: Access is still highly limited. You’re not a part of it, but you seemingly don’t care enough. You don’t have enough time for all those superfluous shenanigans anyway. Which, at this point, probably is true since you’re busy begging people for an invite.
  • Phase 2: You’re in! Make sure that the rest is reminded of this by constantly babbling about how they’re missing out because it’s the coolest thing ever. Also follow other general recommendations for what science has come to describe es ‘probably slightly being a dick about something’. (Bonus point: Write a blog post.)
  • Phase 3: Everybody and their mom is in by now. You will reminisce about how it used to be much nicer and less bloated in the early days, i.e. some time last month. Before, you know, they sold out.

Now that we’ve established that for no real reason, let’s briefly talk about Google+. It’s actually somewhat snappy and useful the way Wave and Buzz never really were. People seem to be embracing it with a fair amount of goodwill which, I guess, is partially based on Facebook’s perceived disregard for user privacy, their inability to fix exploits, and their tendency to sneak in new ‘features’, enabling them by default while not informing anyone properly. (Obviously, it’s not like Google is a complete saint either.)

The Circles feature works nicely and feels more manageable than Facebook’s list – and it only took a few days until someone tried to copy adapt the concept. The video chat (Hangout) was implemented rather well. Oh, and you can edit status messages in order to get rid of that one bloody typo that somehow made its way into the text. There also are other features you may or may not be aware of — see also here.

A few aspects need to get fixed/improved though:

  • The interface needs to be more compact: Google surely does love their white/line-spacing, but combined with another Google+ design choice –pictures and videos not being minimized the way it’s being done in Facebook– this means you’ll be scrolling a lot. Let’s not even talk about what the Stream looks like on a netbook. This can be slightly compensated by decreasing the font size in your browser, but it’s not exactly an elegant look.
  • Link edits: While you can edit status messages, the same cannot be said about content you’re linking to. Rather than being able to fix a broken or improper headline or pick the best excerpt of an article, you have to rely on whatever Google+ fetches automatically.
  • Search functionality: Good luck finding that one website you or someone in your friend list on Facebook or Twitter neighborhood mentioned a few weeks ago. Neither of those services provides an adequate search option. If only Google knew how to search content… oh wait, you guys do! Google+ integration, anyone?
  • Group hug: Another of those “but Facebook does it!” pieces: If several people in your Stream link to the same piece, it would be preferable if those links were grouped/clustered. As of right now, that’s not being done, and only increases the scroll factor (see first bullet point).
  • No Google+ version of ‘poke’: How will Google+ users annoy each other efficiently or try to establish contact someone they fancy in an awkward way?!

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GDC Europe 2010: Swag Review!

Trip to Cologne

Once again I’m off to Cologne to attend GDC Europe. The train ride was remarkably uneventful. Well, except for that 80 minute delay thanks to an “accident” at some other place. I had the pleasure of sitting next to an older man who was creating one of those awful Powerpoint presentations with vacation photos. You know, the ones where the dullness of the pictures goes head to head with the insanity of the slide transition effects.

Anyway, yeah, GDC – I’m looking forward to find out the answer to the one question that ultimately matters: Is this year’s conference swag anything good? Seriously.
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IGF 2010 – The Finalists

Limbo

Last week, the finalists in the main competition of the Independent Games Festival 2010 got announced. Only one of the games I had to judge during the initial round also made it into the second. There were actually some entertaining and enjoyable titles among them, but with 306 submitted productions altogether, the competition becomes stronger, and the level of polish increases every year. There’s  a write-up on this year’s judging process, in case you’re curious about how that works.

I’m currently toying around with the IGF build of Limbo (pictured above), which is one of the finalists, and happens to have a remarkably disturbing atmosphere thanks to its art direction and sound design. Looking forward to seeing more of the game. The complete finalist line-up is available after the break. Read the rest of this entry »

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Avatar

Avatar

I watched 3D version of Avatar yesterday, and while it surely is not a flawless movie, it still was a fascinating and visually impressive experience. I was a bit worried that it might feel like two movies going through a shotgun wedding due to the mix of real actors and full CG scenes, but it ended up blending rather well. Facial animation often is a problem in movies that try to aim for a ‘realistic’ look – see Polar Express or Final Fantasy – but the Na’vi worked and did not break the immersion.

And an immersive movie it certainly was thanks to the world James Cameron and — based on the credits — millions of artists had crafted. Let there be no doubt: Avatar is a movie that begs to be watched on a big screen, preferably in 3D.

However, the c’t take I saw today probably put it best: It’s a three-dimensional film with a one-dimensional story. Pretty much everything is telegraphed ahead, and what follows is predictable down to the smallest level. Well executed, but predictable. Dances With Wolves was brought already by others, and yes, it’s an apt comparison. Cameron also sourced some of his own movies and reused themes he had employed there, especially Aliens and The Abyss.

The characters are more or less stereotypes and equally fail in surprising anyone. Avatar has a running time of 162 minutes, and yet there’s next to nil information given on the background or motivation of any of the characters. Col. Quaritch (Stephen Lange) — I had to look up his name because, like most of the other names, it did not really stuck with me — really is your average military person, Grace (Sigourney Weaver) and her colleagues are the good-natured scientists while Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) came across like a poorer version of the corporate guy played by Paul Reiser in Aliens. There wasn’t anything particularly remarkable about them, and same can be said about Na’vi characters like Eytukan (Wes Studi) or Tsu’tey , which probably both translate to “I’m a character that will kick the bucket before the movie is over so that Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) can become the true and clear leader of the tribe“. It’s up to the audience to speculate as to why Trudy (Michelle Rodriguez) goes rogue by noting that “this isn’t what I signed up for” because soldiers usually do not sign up for dishing out candy. None of those details was a dealbreaker that ruined the experience for me; many of them could have been fixed/improved by some writer though. Not every piece of information needs to be spoon-fed to the audience, but sometimes providing more background helps provide a reason for what a character is doing instead of conveying the impression that he/she does it because the script simply requires him/her to do exactly that at that moment.

Cameron still knows how to frame a good action scene. Despite there being quite a number of fights and a bigger aerial battle, pretty much everything was easy on the eyes compared to the hectic and overly nervous crap delivered in other recent action movies like let’s say Transformers 1 & 2. They surely were aware of the fact that quick cuts and changes of focus will result in a jarring and stressing 3D experience – and avoiding that really paid off. I also thought that they used the 3D effect quite well throughout the movie – not as gimmicky as Beowulf.

So yeah, it’s nice cinematic experience with a really well defined world. And while the story or the dialogue can’t live up to Avatar’s visual quality, it’s still way, way more bearable than the insane scripts beneath other 2009 ‘blockbuster’ productions — yes, 2012 and Transformers 2, I’m looking at you. Go and fetch your ticket already.

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Torchlight

Torchlight

If you’re searching for the Diablo clone du jour, look no further: Torchlight it is.

On the completely arbitrary ‘number of hours it’ll keep you awake past your usual bedtime‘ scale I’m giving it a ‘3’ just to indicate that, yes, it will keep you playing. You’ve already fallen victim to it the second you’re thinking about whether you could tackle one more quest/floor or not – you’re as free to leave as a person who wants to quit smoking, but is holding a cigarette and a lighter in his hands. Yeah, good luck with that.

Torchlight in a nutshell: The game was developed by Runic Games, a company founded by former employees of Flagship Seattle. Thanks to the Hellgate fiasco, the team saw Mythos ripped out of their hands before it could be finished – a job that’s being taken care of by the South Korean publisher HanbitSoft and their internal studio. There are three classes available: the Destroyer (aka ‘tank guy’), the Alchemist (your friendly neighborhood mage), and the Vanquisher (assassin-esque class with a faible for guns and traps). You can name your character and the pet that will accompany him/her all through the game — don’t expect any customization options beyond that.

The pet — a concept Runic’s Travis Baldree had already established in Fate (link) — serves three purposes: It helps you fight your enemies and can be even equipped with spells, and it extends your inventory. Much more importantly: You can send it back to the village to sell the loot you collected and put into its inventory. Which is a really neat way to streamline the gameplay and get rid of an element that never was much fun to begin with. Selling off items is something you will have to do unless you have no interest in earning some money and getting your equipment enchanted. If you want to travel back, you still can use a town portal scroll, of course.

The art direction has a WoW-esque quality to it and is more on the comic side of things rather than trying to be incredibly realistic. It looks quite good and still throws some nifty effects at you, but Torchlight has surprisingly low system requirements and even features a “Netbook Mode” in its settings.

According to earlier statements, Runic is working on an MMO chassis for Torchlight which may or may not get released next year. While some sort of multiplayer part would be nice for some coop action, I’m holding its lack not against the game since it’s not a full price title. As Bill Harris said:

It’s a win cake, filled with win filling, with win icing on top.
The candles on the cake, of course, are made out of win.

Don’t get it for the story or though; it’s really generic and told through some brief dialogues and load screens. I sure wish the developers had added more depth to the world to make me care about the town or the characters roaming through it.

Note: Torchlight costs roughly 20 Dollars and can be bought directly from the developers. However, that version apparently comes along with an install limit (10 or so); if you’re not a fan of such approaches, you might also fetch it through Steam and the like. You don’t have to buy a pig in a poke: There’s a demo available.

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Here Be Dragons

So, I finally got around to watching Dragon Wars, a movie about some dragon snake wreaking havoc. Now, I do love a good monster movie like anyone else. Remember those Godzilla movies involving psychic kids or magic mini fairy twins Mothra priestresses? Yeah, those parts sucked. It doesn’t really help that Dragon Wars ups the magic mumbojumo quota big time, but really tries to take itself somewhat seriously. In order to share my thoughts on the movie, I proudly provide 10 quick cut-to-the-chase reviews:

  • Dragon Wars: Michael Bay, is that you?
  • Dragon Wars: Where were you when I was 8 years old?
  • Dragon Wars: The kind of movie Brett Ratner could have elevated from ’embarrassing’ to ‘bad’.
  • Dragon Wars: Just skip to the L.A. battle scene, watch it, quickly eject the DVD again. Quickly.
  • Dragon Wars: Now with almost two minutes of actual dragon.
  • Dragon Wars: What the fuck?
  • Dragon Wars: Seriously, what the fuck?
  • Dragon Wars: Where all the dialogue that didn’t make it into third-rate soap operas ended up.
  • Dragon Wars: What an amazing thrill ride!
  • Dragon Wars: Makes you root for ‘evil’ because pretty much all protagonists match with Dark Helmet’s characterization of ‘good’.

Nevertheless, I’m actually looking forward to watching it again. With Rifftrax. (Make sure to watch the sample.)

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animago Pimpage Post

animago

The animago, the most prestigious award in the German digital content creation (DCC) scene, is coming to Babelsberg this year. Which — in case you’re not too familiar with the region — happens to be near Berlin. And it’s going to get the official Weasel Seal of Approval (not trademarked yet, I guess).

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T Plus 3 Years – Of Monkeys & Dinosaurs #1

Paraworld

Ah, September 15. To the day it’s been exactly three years since Paraworld shipped in Germany and a few other European markets; the UK/US version showed up ten days later. Well, what a journey that was.

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Even Quicker Note

If you do a Google search for “dippy weasel”, dippy-weasel.com will be the top result. That’s a spectacular — dare I say gigantic? — first step towards world domination! Where are you doubters now? Huh? HUH?!

On a different note, I did write down my thoughts on some of the software I saw last week for my dear friends over at GWJ. Small excerpt from the piece on Uncharted 2:

The firefights are pretty intense; I probably would have enjoyed them more if it wasn’t for my awesome skill of being able to miss even a huge dinosaur when having to aim at something with a gamepad. (Yes, guilty of playing most shooters on PC. And no, there are no dinosaurs in Uncharted 2.)

Haha! I am hilarious. Ahem.

Props to Erik for digging and editting his way through the 6000-word monster this article turned out to be. I had no intention for it to be that long, but sometimes content just keeps exploding as you’re trying to pin it down. It’s not as funny as it sounds when it happens late at night, with you having committed to a deadline.

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Of Weasels and Ninjas

People keep telling me that they were able to log into the wireless network at the GDC Europe. Right. I suspect soon they’ll also be presenting photos of Bigfoot.

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